Wednesday, November 26, 2008
On this coming Tuesday night, Vietnam time, Tuesday morning by the turnings of my biological clock, I will step out of the luxurious placelessness of an airplane and into the unfamiliar surroundings of a tropical country I've never been to before. While leaving work this afternoon, a Vietnamese expatriate was quite surprised that I would go there of all places. She said that she went back a few years ago but found it too hot and lacking in anything compelling to keep her around. She said that after two weeks there she lit out for Singapore to while away the rest of her time in Asia before coming back. I replied that she was not going to change my mind about the place - I was still going.
I still don't have a satisfying answer to the question, "Why Vietnam?"
The simple answer is that my wife and I decided that our honeymoon would be to a place we'd never been to. So why not Iceland? Or New Zealand? Or Tahiti? It would be easy to discount them, but it still would not explain what hold the place has over my imagination. It is not that I have any hankering to retrace the war. If I happen to stumble upon some ruins I'll likely stop and ponder the history, both documented and unknown, that lies there, but I won't be hunting for it. An encounter with the ruin bodies or minds that are the legacy of war will probably stab at my stomach with a visceral discomfort that I don't consider central to a vacation, let alone a honeymoon. I have nothing to exorcise and I seek no closure there.
Perhaps it is a chance to visit Asia once again and encounter the grit and grace of a corner of the world that is developing but still clings to the vestiges of its culture and its routine. The west has tried to leave its mark on the place but the images I've seen so far still assert that Vietnam is a world away from the high-tech trappings and uniformity of the airplane cabin, replete with its automatted dinners and touch screen selects of ten movies I wouldn't pay to watch.
The food, sights, history, scenery and life of the country will be compelling and beguiling. I can't wait.